Tag Archives: power

Of Vice and Virtue

We all have things that get under our skin. One of my pet hates are seeing disadvantaged youths posting pictures of booze on Facebook. Wasting money on alcohol when you don’t have a book in your home is a symbol of much that is wrong with South Africa. I also dislike smoking more than the average person. A filthy habit wasting cash, killing lungs and polluting the environment. These are my own personal weird dislikes and provides the ironic context of what is to follow.

Dislikes aside however, I really like and believe in people. I try to grow in character and sincerity. Integrity is a journey and we can improve, we can become. Men are not born upright, we become upright through consistent and repeated choice. Having been raised in a good home and earning a decent salary I believe in sharing. I believe in giving, free money without strings attached. Last night for example  I was at a Laureus quiz and my group won, being given a R500 Totalsports voucher. I would certainly have liked to pick out something nice in Totalsports, or even buy something for my fiancé. But I knew there were people in the room from very challenging backgrounds, people who couldn’t win the quiz, because general knowledge is part of privilege, not of merit or intelligence. I knew immediately I’d give away my voucher. I’ve figured such out and I gave away the voucher, through someone else, also from a township, so I was sure not to get the praise for being the hero.

I’m well trained at giving things away. What I struggle with a bit more is not to be the hero and to relinquish control. I’m still learning to give through others so that there are three beneficiaries involved in every gift. I mostly try to give through another person, not directly to the end recipient. In such a transaction I benefit, because I practice the discipline of secrecy and being behind the scenes, the middle man benefits from learning what its like to change lives, to be a leader making a difference and the beneficiary gets the material gift. The girl who got the Totalsports voucher lost her shack in a fire last week, so the Totalsports card will be a big deal for her. Her need materially allowed a cycle of humanity to be activated.

Now, giving clothes and vouchers to someone is a shack is a beautiful story, its cute and endearing.  In contrast to the gift of clothes, a friend asked me for my credit card in a fancy hotel, having expensive wine and whiskey with a bunch of strangers. Giving my creditcard to a friend who could buy booze while talking shit till 3 am is giving that does not naturally make me feel good. Why I did it was because I knew some of the kids around the table of celebrities could not afford drinks. Still, making the middle man the big man is something I am trying to practice and I instinctively recognised this as an opportunity to stretch my ‘giving power away’ muscles. Besides that the kids could not afford the whiskey and wine I did like my close friend being the hero, being the main man. Dignity can be expressed in many ways, but I never thought my ‘tithing’ would buy booze in a luxury hotel.

Mercedes Benz, during the same week allowed us to drive their AMG’s around a track. The trust they showed us by giving us these R1m cars and ‘playing’ with them was fantastic. Allowing a bunch of NGO practitioners to drive super luxury performance cars was one of the most developmental things I’ve seen. The execs at Mercedes might have seen it as publicity or marketing but magic was released through the combination of trust and dignity.

Reflecting back on these events, I realised that I was prepared by the Caltex petrol attendant that refused my offer of coffee one evening after church. I just drove from an evening service at ‘Third Place’ and while the car was filling up I went to buy coffee. It was raining and I assumed the Christian thing to do was to also offer the man helping me with refuelling with a coffee. He politely declined with a “NO thanks, Im ok with coffee, but Im running low on tobacco.” I was a bit surprised so I did what we should generally do as I asked him what he wanted? A short “Stuyvesant” settled the matter and I felt weird as I asked for cigarettes at the counter with another church member curiously glancing over to my side. Ten minutes after church I was buying ‘tobacco’ for someone according to what they wanted, not what I wanted to offer. The basics of charity and development are easy to grasp once we get it. To give cash without power is not natural however and we should keep on training. I had a hectic week with e few opportunities, with some leaving me more excited than others. All round a good week in my life-long attempt of reducing the amount of asshole in my character.


Humans are intrinsically made to rule. Dallas Willard reminds us that we all have our own kingdoms. The idea made me think more clearly about agency and development.

A kingdom is a place where you rule, where you decide and make things happen. We are all chiefs with chiefdoms, the only difference is that they differ in size and shape. This is not a debateable ideal, it is a plain and simple reality. Human beings rule and they have power, some more than others. This notion of exercising control and influence through power and agency links to Amartya Sen’s notion of development as the freedom to choose. When we do development, we use our kingdom, our resources, our power and our rule to enlarge the kingdom of someone else. Giving out soup or clothes assists and shows some compassion to subjects in the kingdoms of others, but it does not assist others to expand their kingdoms, their areas of rule and control. Development should be about increasing someone else’s power and that normally requires the diminution or at least the restraint of your own power, control and influence.

We confront the paradoxical illusion of cheap leadership. If leadership is defined as influence, there are a further two distinct levels of influence that has to be differentiated: First, the influence where you influence other to act and exert your power, your kingdom, your rule. Second, there is an influence of restraint, service and sacrifice that enhance and increase the leadership of others. Here lies the cruel joke: there is no leadership in itself, only the making of other leaders. Leadership is not influence, but the transfer of influence, power and control. The moment you start to ‘lead’, in the classical sense, you are not a leader! Influencing makes you a king or a manager. Leadership is the sacrificial process of giving up the spotlight, giving up control and using your power to extend someone else’s influence.

We are left with acts of leaderships rather than positions or persons called leaders. In acting out this transfer of influence, we need to discern and decide who we empower. Sometimes we settle for middle management: we give our power to a bigger king or chief so that under their rule we will be in charge of a section. We give more power to the already powerful, because we find safety in that system. Indeed it seems counter intuitive to give power and influence to someone who already has a big kingdom or area of control. If it comes to being super smart with massive fields of influence, there is no point in ‘leadership’ beyond self preservation. Building very large kingdoms or empires becomes a game of power and strategic control- leadership is lost. The domain of pure leadership will always intersect with the powerless and so called weak. Many people do not see themselves as influencers or leaders and it is there where we can show our leadership. It is not coincidental that the most famous historical figure with the best selling biography ever, always identifies with and hides amongst the ‘poor’. He started his kingdom by activating thousands of small kings and queens.

How? First by pouring love on them so they realize their inherent worth and capacity. What kind of love does that? Love that manifests through deep and constant respect. Respect is measured, not in what we do, but in how we make someone feel. Love respects and love gives access and attention. In this respect and attention, self-love and self-belief becomes activated, the king is born, the queen is awakened from her sleep. A leader is a king-maker. A leader is a queen-maker. One can be tempted to play along and make fat kings fatter, this is a short-cut to ensuring ‘results’ and outputs. Many go down that road. We can also choose a different level of engagement and enter the domain of unseen greatness where life’s harshness has kept magnificent rulers asleep for too long. Normal people are not normal at all. Once we fail to see the flame and potential in any human being we have lost some part of our own essence. Our leadership and influence, whether we like it or not, are linked to the influence of ‘the least of these’.

The start of your kingdom is your body. You are the governing force, the government of your body. You are the President of your body. Whatever you think or choose happens. You have full power over your body. That is why physical violence, punching, rape or even a hiding is so traumatic. Someone violates your primary kingdom, the small space where you are in charge. Hence, non-violence is not just about being nice, it is a strategy to ensure the integrity of the kingdom of self; protect your castle. This is why a poor teenage girl who gets pregnant is ‘fucked’ on so many levels. The body is the first ring of your kingdom, because it is easiest recognizable.

Inside your body lives your soul and mind. Your thoughts. Here it get’s tricky and sad. One is so tempted to say that your thoughts are actually the first domain of your rule, your thoughts are supposed to be the place where you are the governor. But powerful people and systems have unfortunately been robbing you of that reign for years. From the moment you wake up, you see and hear messages that are not accidental, they are voices and noises designed to penetrate your mind. Other kings and queens are sowing seeds in the fertile fields of your mind! I’m not just talking about advertising creating false needs in the sphere of brand association. Philosophical assumptions underlie the content of all the messaging that enters your ears and eyes. Worldviews are programmed into the DNA of your thoughts, even if you don’t know what a worldview is. Slavery is back baby. Slavery is back, invisible and cruel to the point where the majority of society sings up voluntarily. All for a dose of opium and the road of least resistance.

Will we ever learn to rule our own thoughts? Will we ever learn to decide what goes into our heads and how it comes out? Your kingdom will stay scattered and small if you cannot clarify and rule your own thoughts. Why have people been journaling through the ages? Because they like the sound of pen on paper? NO! People write their thoughts down as acts of dominion, as acts to understand and rule their own minds! The battle is for your thoughts. You need this shoe or that whiskey, this car or that house, you deserve this, you hate that… and so it continues. Many people will catch you by linking your apparent wants to their products- be it politics or products, but who cares for your long-term wellbeing?

We will get back to the war of thoughts and the struggle to be ruler, president of your own mind, who determines your own values, ideals and strategies. Let’s look briefly at the most common kingdom on earth. Billions have nailed it and the allure of a shortcut kingdom, the attraction of a ready made rule has been so pervasive that few have resisted. The thing that makes biological families so popular and successful is not the cuteness of the mini-me, the continuation of the species or the comfort of growing old together while grandkids bring presents. The biological family is so pervasive and universally endorsed because it offers ready made kingdoms. Here you can be king of your castle by right of what you did with your penis. Worldwide, no matter how useless, sick, uninformed, weak or evil, the little family or household has been offering undeserving men a release for their kingdom desire. Look at parenthood, the behavior of fathers and see how children are being harmed, how the beautiful flame of leadership and influence is killed early in the life o fa child by a fake governor who never learnt to rule himself, but now he has subjects: sometimes two, sometimes ten! The role of the wife as either fellow ruler or subject, I will leave for another day. Families are not bad in and of themselves. Indeed, the structure could be the most wonderful university for learning how to rule! The family could be the safe training ground where everyone experiments with their rule, their power and responsibility. In most cases it does not do the good and beautiful job. It provides an unhealthy escape for the dominion desire. The test is simple: look at your effective rule and influence outside of your family. Don’t look at your work where salaries set the agenda and relationships. Outside of work and home, explain the extent of your rule and influence. If you have a full picture of influence and assisting others to uncover their influence and rule, then your own family (where you were born and the one you made) probably did a good job through healthy dynamics.

At our core, each of us is either a protector or a leader. We design our lives to either manage and control or to explore and lead. Both spheres include influence, rule and power. The difference is that the one builds walls and fences and the other tears them down. Leaders are not bosses, but bridges. Reaching out or helping others should include traditional charity and sacrifice, but the sacrifice should be way more radical that we think. Instead of sharing an hour a week, sharing your food or even your clothes, you are called to share your power and influence. How? BY increasing the power and influence of someone who have become unaware that he or she were made to rule. People are made to rule, firstly their own lives and secondly to influence other people’s lives in a way that adds mutual value. A natural human tendency is to group in similar circles of likeness. The value of diversity is a key that unlocks a higher humanity where brotherhood transcends animal instinct. A brave leader reaches out to the ‘other’ and thereby grow and learn as he or she assists and shares. If you are smart you would have already realized that by expanding the freedoms of others, by making kings and queens you also expand your own rule and enlarge your own circle of influence. That is not the goal, but a Divine treat and irony- if done right side up.

As an after thought, which for some might be a pre-thought, it might be worth mentioning that the guy who made kingdom talk famous lived about 2015 years ago. That is a very long time ago and when you think for example what Europe went through in the last 300 years and what Africa went through the last 100 years, it is remarkable that a guy said such smart things so long ago. He articulated concepts hundreds of years before the frame of mind or philosophical and cultural contexts had words and references for such views. How weird, these days when something is 10 years old we throw it away. Reading books that are 100 -200 years old seems odd and they battle for relevance. Yet, some guy’s words slap us in the face, grab our hearts and lead us- 2000 years after they were spoken and written.

Can he set me free?

Can I be included in his rule and he in mine?

Yes. Obviously.

Compromising with Control and Power

Despite my reading and critical reflection on management tools, at the end of the day I still have a day-job and I am responsible for projects. Projects funded by donors and agreements that specify outputs and outcomes in exchange for the money. I am under no illusions that the arrangement is far from pure or ideal, and I do my best to introduce humanity and good values into the project cycles I am responsible for. I try to be the layer between the community and the corporate demands.

Yet with a growing programme things are getting to big for me to do myself, I need a team. One team member is doing a great job, probably better than me. The other team members see themselves, not as called, but employees. They have a different work ethic, they have a lack of exposure and their productivity is not just adversely affected by skills and knowledge, but more-so by attitude. It seems few people can mix friendship and freedom with productivity.

As Project Manager, I have to justify money spent and what the results of short term projects were. The project design is compromised, but certain specifics are built in to buy time and space so real development can happen. Meaning, to provide stimulus, you ‘sell’ a basic project that is uncomplicated and unlikely to do harm. This superficial design creates a platform for real relationships to grow and for individuals to discover themselves and grow.  In this game, you have to do the basics with excellence. My subordinates did not manage to do this, more concerned with talking and image that producing results. I tried friendship and freedom, they did not respond. Due to short time cycles of evaluation, I could not tolerate continued slackness. So I did what all managers at some stage do and I embraced the very elements of the system I hate. I resorted to using money and contracts as motivators. I introduced weekly written reports. As a manager it was the right thing to do. I have a responsibility towards the money and contracts. Simple.

Philosophically, the compromised turned my calling into a job even more. I became a bit less human and a bit more resource. I embraced my title of manager. I affirmed my power over my team. I exchanged exploration and deconstructing defiance for rigidity and control. Once you signed the contract, you can try to play the game, but integrity requires compliance. If you dont like the system, you need to take the fight higher, you need to be in dialogue with the source of the money. Managers and coordinators are trapped in a cycle where they get paid to manage and coordinate each other.

Here in my blog, and hopefully one day in my further studies, I am the idealist, the voice of reason in a silly system. But I am also an employee who is forced to compromise. If I don’t want to compromise I have to resign, and that at this stage will not lead to the greatest good. In my work, governed by the power lines of linear managerialism I sometimes cause dishonesty, pain, theft, regret, inferiority. I am the cause of things I hate.

My dream is that one day, I will have a job where I would get paid to do the right things in the right way. My hunch is that I would have to create an organisation and a movement that would enable such. With a dominant system too strong to change, we can only strive to be a) a good example b) create exemplary organisations and lastly hope to spark new movements.

For now, I have to deal with living in a paradox, living a contradictory life. I wonder what the cost and effect will be to me?

Mini Review of Mini Book

Robert Greene’s Concise 48 Laws of Power

I read the 195 small pages of the concise version and I’m very grateful for that choice, since this little book contains so much nonsense and such diverse themes with contradictory advice that a larger or more comprehensive version of it, might have prevented me from finishing it! Nevertheless, I gained and learnt much from it, I gained because the content drips with reality and applied knowledge. The ideas and advice is applicable and implementable; the readers only choice is whether to take and employ the advice or not.

This choice boils down, for me, to a decision of whether you view yourself as a human or an animal. Clever people will immediately say we are both, and Greene constantly uses the phrase ‘human animal’, but that emphasises the animal side. The debate about to what extent we are animals is not really the issue though, the question is, when we employ metaphors and set moral and ethical ideals, do we construct these ideals to become the smarted animals or the best humans? So, never mind genetics and evolutionary history, we are faced with choices where we can act like animals or humans. Personally, I fully recognise my animal nature, and that is why in theory, reflection and ideals, I have to go 100% towards being a human being. Just because I have teeth does not mean I have to bite other people.

I found the book helpful for a few reasons. Greene reveals and promotes sneaky tricks to get to the top, and just as we find it disgusting, we discover chapters that act as mirrors, we discover how we learnt to automatically do many of these clever and manipulative tricks and strategies! Society and experience taught us to play the power game. Greene makes the pensive reader aware that we all play the game to some extent. The book leaves you with a choice: do I try to stop the tricks and live an alternative innocent naive life, or do I become a master tactician in the games of power.   We live in a power jungle, and to some extent you need jungle law in the jungle- or you die. Followers of the New Testament Jesus (and I don’t mean church going christians) might find the predicament more acute. How sincere, how naive should we be and does naivety equal sincerity? If I think of Jesus, he played many social games: the silence before Pilate, the answering questions with questions, the naughty metaphors of turning cheeks, the embarrassment of writing in sand… Jesus was constantly playing people. Yet there was a grounded purpose to his games and it was not popularity, it was didactical and strategic. Innocent like a dove, sneaky like a snake: wow, hardcore cutting edge advice, 2000 years ago. It is not easy to operate in the grey, we are addicted to black or white answers, we are addicted to the creation of opposites; it makes us feel clever and in control.

Greene, thought he is writing an assured money maker, by providing selfish people with ammunition to trample on others. Yet, as was the case with Machiaveli, he supposes such a hyperbole of unpretentious animality that his ‘tricks of the trade’ manual, becomes a profound philosophical workshop, an ethical shakeout. I’ve been reading one law each day, for 48 days. I did this as ‘bible study’ and the irony is, by reading such a dirty little bible, it did a splendid job of reverse psychology, increasing my hunger for unselfish goodness. Sure, I picked up many tricks along the journey and if I can stay grounded or rooted, I will do well to implement many of these tools, not because Im in a war against others, but because I need to influence people addicted to silly rhythms and beliefs. THe tool can be the key to unlock a door, then friendship and love will be the actual door we walk through to explore the rooms of deeper life.

I would definitely advise the little book, for naive people to sharpen up, and for sneaky people to reevaluate their moral stance.

48 Laws of Power
48 Laws of Power

The Irony of Fake and Empty Mini-Tycoons

To give something to someone should be a humbling honour. To give something to someone on behalf of another is daunting and terrifying; the irony of an arrogant middle man in middle management is not just infuriating, it is sad.

If I were employed to run the CSI division of a wealthy company, I hope that I would try to do things differently. I would be brave in demanding a stark realisation where good theory and good praxis meet. Instead of strategy, scope and return, I would ask questions of value, respect, sacrifice and compassion. Not as a side comment, but as a constant fundamental.
The kid, the recipient of CSI help, that kid is and should be treated as more important as the CEO of the company giving the cash.

For those not familiar with the game, here is a small breakdown of typical events:
– 8 August 2012: Meeting the very important middle man (woman)
– 8 August 2012: She makes her three first time visitors sit and wait in a board room, being 30 minutes late for a meeting
– 9 August 2012: Follow up email sent as requested
– 10 August 2012: The CSI team confirms a visit to the kids for 20 August
– 15 August 2012: Meeting cancelled, after kids were already informed
– 4 September 2012: Follow up email after not receiving a new date
– 10 September 2012: Follow up email
– 6 November 2012: Follow up email after receiving no correspondence
– 14 January 2013: Follow up email after hearing nothing
– 17 January 2013: receive new date for visit to those kids
– 23 January 2013: another confirmation of the visit on 13 Feb 2013
– 11 February 2013: receive notice of cancellation of visit with kids
– 11 February 2013: I sent rude-ish email suggesting no further visits, despite this company having the potential to fund
our whole programme and the fact that it is a perfect strategic alignment
– 11 February 2013: I am driven to blog by my disgust for rich people forgetting ‘their’ people and wondering when the
struggle for dignity and freedom became a struggle for glamour and luxury.

CSI makes sense when it is characterised by true generosity, respect and dignity. Mutual learning and equality should be assumed as normative. Sure there are stories to tell, but if the story behind the story is one of power, paternalism and disrespect, the whole thing gets ugly quickly.

Let us be at our best behaviour when we have a chance of giving, not when we have a chance of gaining. Respect the beggar, uneducated, poor and weak before sucking up to the powerful and wealthy. The latter has the power to promote us, but the former has the power to save us.